Tuesday, 4 August 2009

The magic toyshop (i) (Carter) 56

For quite some time I've been a bit nervous about reading any books by Angela Carter, and one of my fears about starting the VVV challenge was that I would have to read books by authors who I wasn't sure about reading, including Angela Carter. I'm not quite sure where this fear arose from, perhaps I perceived her books as being a little off-centre and somewhere on the spectrum of "fantasy" writing which I'm not hugely keen on. Anyway, I decided to bite the bullet last weekend, having picked up a copy of The magic toyshop in Oxfam, and spent Saturday afternoon absolutely gripped by the book, finding it both extremely enjoyable and pleasurable to read and extremely disturbing in equal measure. I couldn't believe I'd waited so long to read her books, and felt slightly disappointed that Virago haven't published more of her canon. Happily we had a student here a little while ago who was hugely interested in Carter, and so we have most of her books, which I'll be reading outside of this challenge.

This is the amazingly fantastical story of Melanie and her brother and sister. In some ways a coming-of-age story, it traces their lives from living with a guardian while their parents are away, through the devastation of their parents death to living with her aunt and uncle and two young men in the very weird set-up of the toyshop owned by her uncle. It is a strange environment - her aunt is struck dumb and her uncle is extremely forbidding. He seems to care more for the puppets that he makes that for his family. The situation in the household deteriorates until it reaches a disturbing climax.

The prose writing of this book is amazing; Carter's descriptions are extremely rich and really give this extraordinary book the edge into brilliance. It is the sort of book which can be studied in great depth - the way in which Carter depicts the various women and their roles for example, and I think it would be possible to apply all sorts of psychoanalytical theory. Unfortunately I don't know enough about lit crit to do this.

I don't feel that my blog post does justice at all to this wonderful book, but I would highly recommend it - it is one of the best VMCs that I've read so far. But do be prepared to be disturbed as well as enjoy it.

Carter's other VMC books are The passion of new Eve, Fireworks, Several perceptions and Shadow dance, and I'd love to take recommendations as to which to try next. I am also a little puzzled by her anthology Wayward girls and wicked women as to whether it is a VMC - it doesn't appear on my list, and my copy doesn't have a number, but another VMC reader has a copy with a number...

You might wonder why I'm not showing you any pictures of the book today; I'm blogging about The magic toyshop in two parts and all will be revealed tomorrow.


  1. It excites me beyond measure when others discover Angela Carter for the first time and exult in her highly accomplished prose. Her writing is lush and rich and like nothing I have ever encountered before or since (if I had to draw comparisons then I would say Rushdie and Garcia Marquez, who share similarities and the former was a good friend and literary admirer of hers).

    I love Virago, I love VMCs, I am very fond of other writers and books on the list and count a handful among my favourite books but Angela Carter's work is special, it is extraordinary, and it stands apart.

    I am delighted that you enjoyed your first Carter experience and love this book (despite the disturbing subject matter). I would obviously recommend them all but go for The Passion of New Eve, which is highly bizarre and I imagine out of your comfort zone (it is fantastical) but I am highly intrigued by what your impressions of it will be!

    Possibly the longest comment in blog creation but Angela Carter makes a huge impression on me.

    I want to re-read them all desperately ... *pouts*

  2. I have not read Angela Carter yet but keep reading glowing thigns about her. Your first experience with Carter has given me confidence to go find one of her books.

  3. I completely agree Claire that that novel stands apart from much of what I have read. The only VMC we have of her at work is Shadow Dance, but I will look in the public library today. Thanks for being so effusive - if it wasn't for you I might not have got onto her until a very long way down my list!

    Green Road - don't be nervous, she's definitely worth it.

  4. I'm glad you didn't let the fact that she writes fantasy stop you from giving her a try, and that you ended up enjoying her :) The first novel of hers I read was The Passion of New Eve, which like Claire was saying is nothing if not bizarre. It's post-apocalyptic and strange and unique, but I think her lush writing makes it appealing even to those who aren't always fans of genre fiction. I hope you enjoy it!

  5. My sister wrote her (undergraduate) dissertation on Carter, whose books were indeed made for the heavy machinery of literary theory. I'm looking forward to reading them myself.

  6. Her collection of short stories, The Bloody Chamber, is an amazing set of stories. I highly recommend it.

  7. I have just finished this book, and I echoed your sentiments in my blog post: I don't think it's done the book sufficient justice.

    I really really reallllly need to read more of her work. I'm still amazed by how much I loved this book.